The “Other” Projects: Garden, Orchard, & Bees

We found a little time this month between oats and sweet corn to work on a couple of our fun, experimental farm projects.

Garden:

We have been planting a vegetable garden together for many years (my dad started me planting green beans as soon as I could walk), and it has finally outgrown the back yard. Last year we put the hardiest crops out on the farm: potatoes (we are mostly of Irish descent, after all), onions, leeks, peppers, and a couple of beds of beets. This year, we again started far more plants than we could fit in the home garden, so we are testing several new crops to see how they do out on the windy prairie.

soil blocking

Here, we are transplanting seedlings that we started indoors in soil blocks, moving them into bigger blocks. Soil blocks are an alternative to all those pesky plastic trays that have to be thrown out after only a couple years of use. The little metal tool I’m using in these photos compresses very wet potting soil into a cube that holds its shape and can be used just like a pot for several weeks or even months before outdoor planting.

Only peppers and tomatoes are transplanted like this, because they can’t go outside until relatively late in the season – all other crops are seeded into small (1.5″ or 2″) blocks and then planted directly out in the garden.

squeezing out the blocks
Transplanting peppers that need some tender loving care because they were attacked by a pest in our outdoor heated low tunnels.

tomatoes
Tomatoes trellised with the Monterey Basket Weave technique. The red-winged blackbirds love having a high perch to sing their “oka-lee” song.

The farm garden this year will include the potatoes, onions, leeks, and peppers that did well out there last year, as well as experimental rows of cabbages, kale, chard, and tomatoes…and maybe more to come!

Orchard:

Three quarters of an acre near the lane and shed have been set aside as a small orchard, an area dedicated to edible perennial plants. It is a work in progress: we just planted the first fruit trees and berry bushes, and we hope to add to it gradually over time. Like the vegetable garden, when these plants bear fruit (some as long as five to seven years from now), they will be in fairly small quantities that may in the long term be a source of supplemental income.

Empire / M.7
Eight apple trees and a sweet cherry will be planted in the orchard this year, and a handful of newly-grafted trees will stay in the home garden for protection until they are a bit larger.

blueberries
Four high-bush blueberries and eight different varieties of raspberries came or are on the way from Backyard Berry Plants in Indiana. Some had berries on them already!

Bees:

Sadly, the colony of honey bees that I kept in the back yard last year did not survive the harsh winter. In talking with other area beekeepers, I learned that the overwinter survival rates seem to hover around 50% in recent years. So, undaunted, I cleaned out the hive, ordered more components, and installed two new queens and their coteries out on the farm this month.

introducing new bees to their hive

I was having a hard time getting the bees out of their transport package, and I was worried because rain was on the way. Finally, I strapped the package to the top of the hive between the inner cover and the outer cover so that the opening in the package box lined up with the hole in the inner cover. I stopped stressing about it, and the ladies figured it out in no time.

hives at sunset
New hives in their new home.

– Molly

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